POLITICS

Canada pledges nearly $3 million to help victims of landmines in Colombia

02/21/2013 04:56 EST | Updated 04/23/2013 05:12 EDT
OTTAWA - The federal government is providing nearly $3 million in funding to help victims of landmines in Colombia — a gesture one Canadian activist describes as a good first step, but one that doesn't go far enough.

Canada pledged $2.9 million for civilian landmine survivors in Colombia, a conflict-racked country that's home to one of the highest rates of landmine-related incidents in the world.

Minister of State of Foreign Affairs Diane Ablonczy made the announcement in Bogota earlier this week as part of an ongoing tour of central and South America.

"I hope it's a signal that the government will start upping its funding again for mine action programs," said Paul Hannon, executive director of Mines Action Canada, a coalition of anti-landmine organizations.

"This is a solvable problem, unlike most international crises, and Canada should be leading the way in solving this issue."

Global mine action programs collected just $17 million last year, the lowest level in a decade, Hannon said.

A spokesman for Ablonczy disputes any suggestion that Canada isn't doing enough.

"Since 2006 Canada has made significant investments through 250 projects to this global effort, making us one of the world's top contributors," Joshua Zanin said in an email.

Canada spearheaded a global initiative to raise awareness about landmines in the 1990s by hosting an international conference, destroying its own stockpile of the insidious weapons and negotiating a treaty banning landmines.

Those talks resulted in the Ottawa Convention, the first international treaty to ban the use of landmines, in 1997.

Given Canada's historic leadership on the file, the country ought to be a top-five donor in the world for landmine related issues, Hannon said. That would mean $1 donated for every Canadian each year, a total of $33 million annually.

"This kind of funding and programming will produce immediate and long-term results for those who have been victimized by this inhumane weapon."

Landmines are cheap and easy to deploy, which makes them popular in poorer countries. But their very nature means they can a potentially deadly and invisible threat for decades, according to the Canadian International Development Agency, which has provided funding to global mine-action initiatives since 1998.

There are an estimated 100 million landmines stockpiled around the world, CIDA says.

"The work's not finished and it will continue for years, be it for mine clearance or victim assistance," said Christian Champigny, program support officer of Handicap International Canada, an organization dedicated to helping landmine victims.

Handicap International, which will be administering the program in Colombia on Canada's behalf, has been working in the country since 1998.

The plan is to build on current victim assistance programs in ten jurisdictions of the country, helping to mobilize and co-ordinate services to help victims re-integrate into society.

"It expands our geographic coverage and really builds on Colombian capacities," Champigny said.